My dad’s voice was flat when he said, “I told you not to do it, Evan.”
I had expected a bigger reaction. Thought he’d bring God into it for sure. Of all the things he’d told me not to do, this chest tattoo—Poseidon rising above swirling smoky-gray waves—was the most indelible.
I hoped I’d finally gone too far, that he’d stop riding me to go to college.
“Get a suitcase,” he said.
“You’re throwing me out?”
“Not if you get your suitcase.”
While the sun in Belize wasn’t brutal, it was persistent...like Dad, who was set on showing me the Barrier Reef, second only to Australia’s. He wanted to prove that the sea—the world for that matter—was much more than the ominous grays I’d engraved across my chest.
I should have refused to come; it was right there—the urge to tell him where he could take his ultimatum. But it’s hard to feel tough with a load of back acne.
“Pretty magnificent, huh?” Dad pointed to the wall in front of us. We were sitting in a dive shop, waiting for Artie, the dive master. Next to us a couple of honeymooners were all over each other.
“Look at those incredible colors, Evan," he continued. “That’s fan coral…the peach variety, so intricate it looks like silk webbing. The bright yellow fish sticking out from those fire-red fronds next to it, are called Queen Ann.”
My knee drummed as my eyes wandered over the blown-up glossies lining the room. It was the pictures of the divers that interested me. Grown men looked inconsequential, vulnerable next to an almost endless slab of reef that dropped off into black nothingness.
I had Tsunami nightmares back then. Usually I’d be running toward a towering cliff when the wave broke directly overhead. It would tumble my body in violent circles till all light and air was gone.
Artie finally pushed through the screen door. He was a short, grizzled man who wasn't concerned with shaving. It was time.
I tried to concentrate as he explained about the buoyancy vest and the weight belt and other aspects of diving I’m sure were vital, but my brain wouldn’t focus. The honeymooners didn’t help. Do you like my wetsuit? Oh, baby, I do. They should’ve stayed at the hotel.
All the way from the classroom to the dock, to the dive spot, I was reduced to copying whatever my dad did.
There came the moment, though, when he splashed into the water, and I was up next, tank strapped on, fins and mask in hand. My hands grasped a horizontal bar attached to the boat. Gravity added to the weight of the equipment. I wondered how many people had been lost sliding off the reef’s ledge.
Artie’s assistant, Luis, squatted down next to me. “You’re good, Evan—the equipment’s good, and Artie’ll be at the bottom of the rope.”
“Relax and fall back,” my dad called, “The Belize waters are Tsunami-free.”
I’m not sure if I was embarrassed by the nightmares or by the emotion triggered by his remembering, but I dropped like a cinderblock.
The cool water seeped into my wetsuit as I surfaced. On went the fins. I cleared my mask, adjusted my buoyancy, and clamped down on my regulator’s mouthpiece. I swam past my dad to the rope. The fins propelled me down along the neon-orange length into a strangely clear and vivid scene that had a photo-shopped quality to it.
Before I reached Artie, he signaled for me to join the honeymooners, who were already exploring…hand in hand. I nodded, but looked up through back-lit water toward my dad. Against the enormous expanse of aqua-blue, it was his mortality that struck me.
I waited—let him take the lead to the spectrum of corals that my lame adjectives of red, green, yellow, brown, and purple couldn’t begin to describe. They completely encrusted the mangrove roots, so not a spot lay bare.
I breathed in, liking the sound.
The colors went on a long way, but eventually they dropped off. Blue darkened into black. I had no desire to go there.
Here—with the honeymooners, who were chasing orange-striped tropical fish—here with my dad, who’d begun waving wildly at the discovery of peach fan coral—here with light, washing over us all, is where I wanted to be. Here, I felt that color and love and God might somehow be connected.
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